An acupuncturist is a health professional who applies theories of traditional Chinese medicine in the form of acupuncture. Acupuncture is a procedure in which thin needles are inserted into specific parts of the body to relieve pain and treat illness.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe acupuncture unblocks and balances the flow of energy (chi or qi), which flows through the body along pathways called meridians. Western medicine practitioners theorize that acupuncture reduces pain through biological mechanisms, perhaps involving stimulation of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and changes in neurotransmitters, hormones, or immune function.
Acupuncturists may have many different credentials, including L.Ac., Lic.Ac., C.A., Dipl.Ac., M.Ac., or AAMA. Some states require acupuncturists to be licensed by the board of medical examiners. Many require educational background in acupuncture science and Western science along with extensive clinical training. In some states, acupuncturists must also pass an exam given by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) before they are granted licensure. NCCAOM certification means that a person has met national standards for safe and competent practice in his or her field. Acupuncturists may also complete a clean needle technique (CNT) course administered by the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. When choosing an acupuncturist, it is important to check credentials, especially in states with less rigorous requirements.
A physician acupuncturist is a doctor of medicine or podiatry or an osteopathic doctor who has fulfilled the physician requirements for licensure to practice acupuncture that have been set by the state's medical board. These doctors study acupuncture and incorporate it into their medical practice.